I built a case with limited space (see DIY case) in the hope that it would stop me buying more modules. Ah well….
So onto the next project. I recently played with an ARP 2600 for the first time (a late starter on this one) and really loved the way that there were so many modulation possibilities built into it, and mostly without patching. Patching is great but sometimes I find it quicker to get interesting sounds just by messing with lots of sliders! This inspired me to put together a modular project that used some of these ideas. I didn’t want to start to try and copy the ‘sound’ of the 2600 by getting right into the correct filters / VCAs / envelopes, but I did want to have some of that modulation flexibility.
I had a couple of Analogue Systems RS95s to use as oscillators, and put a Doepfer CV mixer next to each one, and wired each input of the mixer with LFO / EG / noise / ‘other’ osc sin output. The same mod sources go to the CV mixer thats attached to the Filter CV. That’s broadly how the 2600 is set up. I only have 2 oscillators here as opposed to the ARP’s 3, but it’s a good start. A lot of the synth is internally wired so that you can get a sound out without patching too much – EG1 goes to the filter, EG2 to the VCA etc.
I also added the Doepfer Spring reverb (A-199) and SEM filter (A-106-5) which add some great flavour. And the Expert Sleepers ES-3 which I LOVE.
Here’s a little demo of some of the easy to get to modulation capabilities.
So when I started this modular project, I was intending to make it ‘keyboardless’. As Brian Eno apparently said, it takes a week to learn to play a synth and years to learn not to play it. Or something.
However, I’m a synth player at heart and so felt that it was about time I made a proper synth like case for my main set of modules. In reality, I end up triggering them from sequencers most of the time, but I find having a permanently attached keyboard makes getting sounds initially much quicker and more fun for me.
The case is very much modelled on the now un-available Analogue Systems Sorcerer case. This seemed like a good basic design to me. The power supply is from Analogue Systems as it provides plenty of power on all 3 rails. Following my ‘synth’ mentality, I have hard wired some of the patching. For example, the 2 Doepfer mixers to the left of the keyboard are normalled to the input of the main osc CVs and the filters respectively. Then, the 2 LFOs are nomalled to the first two mixer inputs, so I can easily send LFOs to the oscs or filters in varying amounts with no patching. I know this totally goes against the concept of the patchable synth to an extent, but on the other hand, I really like the semi- modular nature of things like the MS-20, so it made sense to follow that idea in this project.
Also, a DC offset goes to an input on the pitch CV mixer, giving me an ‘overall’ tuning pot for all 4 oscs, and the pitch CV also goes to the filter mixer so I can send varying amounts of keyboard tracking to the filters.
The Keyboard is a standard Fatar 4 octave, no after touch or touch sense, but that suits me fine as I prefer the faster action (well…. higher key contacts effectively) of the non touch sense actions for this style of synth. Then there’s an Analogue Systems Midi-CV converter hidden in the case, and a little patch wired to the CV and Gate outputs, so it ‘feels’ like a ‘proper’ CV keyboard! 😉
The case is made from 18mm Oak, which is WAY over the top, but is what was available to me at the time and feels very substantial!
The Doepfer ribbon controller was sort of an after thought. It would have been nice to incorporate it into the case, but it’s also nice to be able to remove it.
The Modules are:
Expert Sleepers ES1 / Analogue Solutions CV Buffer / Macbeth Dual VCO / Doepfer dual attenuator / Analogue Solutions VCO / Analogue Solutions VCO-SUB / Analogue Solutions mixer / Analogue Solutions LFO x2 / Analogue Solutions Sample and Hold / Analogue Solutions EG x2 / Borg 2 Filter / Analogue Systems RS100 / Doepfer Dual VCA / Analogue Solutions Headphone OP / Doepfer Ribbon controller / Doepfer CV mixers x2
And if you would like to hear what some of it sounds like:
The Oberkorn sequencer from Analogue Solutions is a 3×16 step CV sequencer with 2 gates and various clever ways to control it. I wanted to have a simple way to change the stepping order, and the Oberkorn has a pretty extensive MIDI implementation, but at the same time I wanted to keep the concept of NOT tweaking stuff on the computer all the time. So, I set up some transformers and mappers in the Logic environment so that I could have some buttons on my controller keyboard that effectively change the playback mode of the steps. This means that I can set up a sequence and then experiment with various ways of playing those CVs. It also means that I can skip or repeat steps, but that is a little more involved and takes away a bit from the concept of ‘getting away from the computer’.
The Logic Environment looks like this:
I have 5 buttons assigned to the various modes, and can add more modes as time goes on to make it more interesting. I also added a midi delay line which repeats the steps independently of the clock time. This can give some really interesting results when combined with the various step modes. I made a mode called Snake, inspired but the Rene sequencer, as I thought it was a very cool idea to map the 16 steps on an x-y axis and step though them with that in mind. Its pretty easy to do a number mapping in Logic to make this possible.
Here’s a video showing some of these step modes in action:
I have just finished another analogue ambient project. It’s on the music page and here:
Lots of modular on this one. Let me know what you think!
Here’s a brief demo of some of the sounds of the Wiard Borg 1 Filter. A Buchla Low Pass Gate crossed with the resonance circuit of an MS-20!
Here’s a little sequence running from Expert Sleepers Silent Way into the Macbeth Dual VCO, 2 ASol VCOs, the ASys RS-100S Filter and Doepfer VCA using ASol EGs. Enjoy!
I made several errors with the power supply when I started putting my modular system together. However much power you think you need, multiply it by at least 2 and you should be good! I started with a psu from Analogue Solutions. It was fine in principle, but I think becuase ASol don’t have any modules that really draw on the 5v rail, it was only rated at 150 ma or so. Hence when I got an Analogue Systems RS390 sampler delay that draws something like 250ma alone on the 5v rail, everything fizzled to a silence.
There are many many modules now that require quite a current on the 5v rail, so having a psu that has some headroom in this area is probably a good thing.
Doepfer has a 5v solution that piggy backs on the 12v rail to convert it down to 5, but then the current draw is shared between the 12 and 5 rails, and that doesn’t leave much room to grow at all!
I ended up with a psu from Analogue Systems. This has mainly the ASys propriotory power connectors, but also has 8 doepfer style connectors. Luckily it’s pretty easy to make crossover cables that convert one style of plug into the other. It also has plenty of current headroom on all 3 rails and lots of fuses.
Power supplies can seem really expensive when you start putting a system together, and after all they don’t make any sound so are pretty boring, but I think it’s worth spending a reasonable amount on them to make the sytem as future proof as possible.
The RS100S Filter is Low Pass module with a Moogy character. It will self oscillate and has a 1v/octave input so you can use it as a sine wave generator. There are 2 inputs and with the Gain pot at 12 o’clock its all pretty clean, but past 12 o’clock things start to break up in a nice way. It’s quite a ‘scientific’ filter, in that when closed no signal goes through (well according to the manual it stops at about 35Hz) and when fully open theres very little difference in sound whether it’s in or out of the signal path. Having said that, I like the overall sound of this filter. It’s not dirty like an MS20, but has character none the less and I particularly like it for bass sounds.
The RS110 is a multi mode filter with Notch, Band, High and Low Pass outputs, and an insert point for the Resonance circuit. If using it in Low Pass mode, patching the Notch Out into the Resonance In can give some really nice timbral changes. Again, it’s pretty clean sounding, but the inputs overdrive nicely and the various outputs mean you can get a wide variety of sounds from it. It does take up rather a lot of rack space though.
The following video gives an idea of what these two filters sound like. The sound sources are an RS95e osc, and two Analogue Solutions oscs.